CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 4. . . .September 25, 2009
Still Longshots provides an unflinching look at the lives of a select group of at-risk young people on the streets of Montréal. It records their participation in a 10-week video workshop intended to equip them with new skills while simultaneously allowing them to explore issues and themes that matter to them personally. Consequently, the documentary enables viewers to see these workshop participants not as “street kids,” but rather as the unique individuals they are.
Although 11 individuals initially signed contracts for the Still Longshots workshop, only seven show up. Of those seven, the documentary follows four in particular: Dave, Édith, Brian, and David. Twenty-three-year-old Dave is an easygoing philosopher, given to crude one-syllable interjections. His affection for his dog tempers his otherwise tough demeanor. Soft-spoken Édith, 19, serves as a foil for the more boisterous group members. Her cherubic visage makes it difficult to imagine that she could ever have been capable of the violent behavior she alludes to. Brian, 24, is better known as “Beat,” short for “human beatbox,” because he creates rhythmic sounds with his body. Since he has decided to quit street life and drugs, for him the workshop represents a rebirth. Finally, as the victim of a curbside dispute, 19-year-old David is a no-show at the outset; he later turns up battered, but buoyant. Yet this self-described “natural products consultant” drops out of the workshop about one-third of the way through the 52-minute production because, as he explains to workshop instructor Didier, he has been “promoted” to street boss. Looking into the camera, a resigned Didier acknowledges matter-of-factly, “We know we’re dealing with street kids. It’s hard [for them] to do the switch, and they have their own issues.”
An introductory frame to the original Longshots video, segments of which are embedded into Still Longshots, defines the longshot as “a wide shot establishing the subject in relation to its environment.” In a sense, the subjects themselves are longshots: workshop partners are gambling on participants to use the training provided to get off the streets and lead safer, healthier lives; however, there is no guarantee that the young people will do so. Still, it is encouraging that even kids who drop out of the program, like Carrie did, have a chance of “beating the odds.” For this reason, it would be interesting to continue to repeat this project, each time following up with participants of previous workshops.
Most of the scenes play out in Montréal, accompanied by the original music of local indie band Puff and the Pillpoppers. Since most residents of Montréal speak both of Canada’s official languages, workshop instructors and participants switch seemingly effortlessly between English and French. English subtitles accompany the spoken French, which is an effective way for the film to facilitate communication yet retain the original nuances of voice and meaning. Still Longshots is also available from the NFB in French as Un pari tout aussi risqué.
The workshop participants are at-risk youth rather than persons with developmental disabilities, and the location is Montréal, instead of Vancouver; nevertheless, Still Longshots bears a resemblance to this ability. The goal of both NFB documentaries is the same: to empower the filmmakers-in-training with opportunities to speak for themselves and to address common misconceptions or stereotypes others might hold about them. While the straitlaced may not tolerate the film’s inclusion of coarse language and addictive substances, broader-minded viewers will accept them as true to street life, and choose instead to focus on the vulnerability and creativity these young adults demonstrate. The care with which Dave, Brian, and Édith complete their videos, as well as the exhilaration they radiate the night they receive their workshop certificates and screen their films for family and friends, is palpable.
Ten weeks, seven participants, three instructors, four alumni: countless insights. Only the coarse language and images of addictive substances cause me any reservations.
Recommended with reservations.
Julie Chychota is a transplanted Manitoban living in Ottawa, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.